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International Symposium for Bilingualism

Written by PhD Students Louise Rolland, Xuemei Chen, Alessandra Panicacci, Elena Dey, Hannah King, Pernelle Lorette and Sharona Moskowitz.

Written by PhD Students Louise Rolland, Xuemei Chen, Alessandra Panicacci, Elena Dey, Hannah King, Pernelle Lorette and Sharona Moskowitz.

International Symposium for Bilingualism (University of Limerick, 11-15 June 2017)
Fáilte! (Welcome)

The University of Limerick (Ireland), with its bilingual signage and grassy campus, provided a peaceful and stimulating setting for ISB11. The conference welcomed 900 people who could choose from a mind-boggling 360 presentations and 127 posters over the course of four days! The theme was: ‘Bilingualism, Multilingualism and the New Speaker’, with the aim of bringing multilingual speakers’ experiences across the lifespan into focus. Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele and seven current PhD students from the ALC Department attended and presented their latest research.

“How languages and emotions affect the heart and mind of multilinguals.”

Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele’s plenary appealed to the hearts and minds of the audience and elicited strong emotions! His personal anecdotes complemented his review of the field, which he has played an important role in shaping over the last twenty years. In addition to naming his personal heroes he spoke of the inspiration provided by his peers and students, and of his pleasure at being part of a real ‘family’ of researchers – this is what conferences are all about. There was sadness when he revealed that as a young Spanish learner studying abroad he could ask for directions to the train station but was lost for words when it came to finding directions to a young woman’s heart… and surprise when he used the C-word or ‘verbal dynamite’, as featured in his latest paper (Dewaele, 2017)! If only we had organised a questionnaire to measure the audience’s reactions…

Birkbeck Student Presentations

Xuemei Chen co-authored a paper with Prof. Jean-Marc Dewaele, entitled “The relationship between English proficiency and L2 humour appreciation among Chinese L2 users of English” (2017). In her presentation, she reported that the effect varied depending on the stimuli type and its linguistic complexity. Specifically, for L2 humour with higher linguistic complexity, a positive linear correlation had emerged between L2 proficiency and L2 humour appreciation among advanced L2 users but not among intermediate L2 users. The effect was mediated by ease of understanding.

Elena Dey presented a paper titled "‘A Soulful Company’ or ‘a Fun Hangout’? Strategies to Overcome Conceptual Non-Equivalence”, which is based on her PhD dissertation, currently at the analysis stage. In her research, she looks into two untranslatable multi-word units (Russian ‘dushevnaia kompaniia’ and English ‘to lack privacy’) that do not exist in the other language. The study investigates how the participants cope with untranslatability when they try to transpose these two concepts into the language that lacks it, what strategies they use, what individual differences they demonstrate, and how these differences influence their choice of strategy.

Sharona Moskowitz presented a poster about how teacher gender affects student perception of foreign language teachers. The topic is related to her PhD research on how students’ perceptions of language teachers influence L2 motivation and enjoyment.

Alessandra Panicacci presented a paper co-authored with Prof. Jean-Marc Dewaele, titled "Do interlocutors or conversation topics affect migrants' sense of feeling different when switching languages?". The paper has been recently submitted to the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. The study was based on another recent publication (Panicacci & Dewaele, 2017). In her presentation, Alex focused on migrants' feelings of difference when switching languages with specific categories of interlocutors (strangers, colleagues, friends, family, partner) and when discussing specific types of topics (neutral, personal, emotional).

In her presentation entitled ‘Being oneself in psychotherapy: challenges for new speakers’, Louise Rolland discussed why some participants chose to have therapy exclusively in their second language. Reasons included a strong desire to adapt to the new country or to leave certain experiences behind. However one interviewee had gained new insights after completing the survey about her language choices (see Rolland, Dewaele & Costa, 2017). As a result she had started using her first language more in therapy, enabling her to explore difficult material from her childhood.

Our Conference Highlights

Xuemei Chen wrote:
For a person like me who would rather hide than speak in front of an audience, I had imagined meeting and presenting in front of other young researchers and experts as intimidating. My worry turned out to be completely unfounded. Quite the opposite, I had a remarkable, unforgettable and rewarding experience with all the Birkbeck delegates and researchers from all over the world. Apart from socializing, for me, attending ISB 11 was a great opportunity of obtaining feedback for my research, keeping updated with new trends, getting inspiring ideas, building up my knowledge base and boosting my confidence as well as passion.
I was particularly interested in the colloquium on “Cognitive control and language proficiency: Factors affecting their interaction in typical and atypical populations” led by Prof. Klara Marton. It cut across subfields in neurocognitive science, psycholinguistics, and bilingualism, and gathered evidence for a strong interaction between language proficiency and cognitive control depending on variables including the framework of cognitive control, task types and complexity, individual bilingual differences and language processing skills.

Elena Dey wrote:
The conference has been a significant experience for me academically. I made new connections with other researchers, working on projects of interest for me. I received valuable feedback regarding my study. However, it was also important for me socially.
I had to take four years off from my study due to various circumstances, including bringing into the world two lovely children and working flat out at my job as ESOL Coordinator at a college in Eastbourne. I lost my social circle at Birkbeck. I missed my Birkbeck colleagues and friends, and they were an important part of my social life. When I returned after my long absence, I did not know anyone and was not sure if I would make any new connections with the PhD students, especially as I live far away from Birkbeck, and coming to attend a PhD seminar is quite an undertaking for me and is not something I can do very often. In the beginning, I felt a bit like an ‘outsider’, an ‘eternal PhD student’.
However attending the ISB11 conference with six other PhD candidates, highly motivated and unique personalities, helped to make me feel ‘at home’ again. We participated in the conference during the days and 'hung out' together during evenings, discussing our research interests and having ‘deep’ conversations about life. They may not even realise how important it was for me personally; I regained a sense of belonging to our PhD community. What a stimulating and valuable experience it was all round!

Hannah King wrote:
As a first year PhD student, the deadline for submitting papers for ISB11 came and went before I began my studies. However, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share ideas, connect with other Birkbeck students, and do some wider networking, so I attended the symposium as an observer. This allowed me to enjoy the conference without the added stress of a presentation. There were many sessions that were extremely relevant for my research, including numerous talks on code-switching as well as conversations around translanguaging. Highlights for me were meeting colleagues that I had previously only interacted with over e-mail, exploring the idea of linguistic capital, and some very thoughtful presentations on migrants. It was such a joy to be part of the Birkbeck community and to have the opportunity to support fellow researchers. I look forward to following up on new ideas sparked by conference talks and continuing to foster connections with other researchers and students in the field.

Pernelle Lorette wrote:
ISB11 involved a lot of “first times” for me. First of all, it was the first time I attended a conference without presenting any work of my own. I could relax and fully enjoy the many high-quality presentations, without having to worry about my own talk. Moreover, it was the first time that I attended such a big conference, with almost one thousands participants and so many presentations going on at the same time (which implies difficult choices between several interesting simultaneous talks). Given my research field, I was particularly interested in talks about emotions and/or about different aspects of Mandarin Chinese. Several presentations (and the interesting discussions that followed) inspired me for my own research, giving me new methodology ideas or pointing to pitfalls I should avoid. I also networked with several colleagues, including a group of researchers working on emotions in Mandarin Chinese, a topic that is highly related to my own research project.
Furthermore, ISB11 was also the first time that I attended a conference together with so many colleagues from Birkbeck. It was really nice to attend fellow Birkbeck researchers’ talks, but also to think about possible collaborations for the future while enjoying a Guinness together! The social aspect of conferences is also something that I always value. At ISB11, we were for instance invited to a big barbecue enlivened with Irish music and Irish dance (which I found particularly enjoyable as I am a dancer myself, but never got the opportunity to practice Irish dance before).
In sum, this conference was both very enjoyable and informative to me. It gave me an inspiration and motivation boost to bring my research project to the next step.

Sharona Moskowitz wrote:
Doing research often feels like a solitary endeavor, yet sharing research with colleagues is a core experience of the PhD student. Attending ISB11 for me was a great reminder of the importance of a community of scholars. I believe that particularly for researchers in the beginning stages, attending and/or presenting at conferences is a great chance to fully engage and bolster our place within that community. One theme that I heard repeatedly both in formal presentations and in casual conversation was the value of collaboration and interface between subfields such as sociolinguistics and bilingualism. Socially, the conference atmosphere was friendly and inviting, with ample opportunity to chat with colleagues and meet potential collaborators. For me, ISB11 was extremely useful in sparking curiosity about topics that I know little about as well as reinvigorating my own current research interests.

Alessandra Panicacci wrote:
The conference has been an incredibly stimulating experience where I had the chance to consolidate the relationship with my colleagues as well as meet new young researchers for future collaborations. Besides the priceless feedback I received for our new paper, I got the chance to see the network of knowledge that we, Birkbeck students, are creating together. This has been the greatest reward.

Louise Rolland wrote:
The excellent colloquium on ‘Language advising for new speakerness: facilitating linguistic shifts’ led by Dr Deirdre Ní Loingsigh (University of Limerick) introduced me to the language counsellor role, which is uniquely positioned between humanistic counselling and language teaching: advisers support language learners by helping them to set goals, reflect on progress and discuss outcomes. The themes of learner identity and emotionality were particularly relevant to my work.
Next conference
ISB12 will be hosted by the University of Alberta in Edmonton (Canada) on 24-28 June 2019 with the theme: ‘The Next Generation’. Come and be that new generation!

Chen, X. & Dewaele, J.-M. (2017). The relationship between English proficiency and L2 humour appreciation among Chinese L2 users of English. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Dewaele, J.-M. (2017, in press). “Cunt”: on the perception and handling of verbal dynamite by L1 and LX users of English. Multilingua: Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication.
Panicacci, A. & Dewaele, J.-M. (2017). ‘A voice from elsewhere’: acculturation, personality and migrants’ self-perceptions across languages and cultures. International Journal of Multilingualism, 1–18. Available on ResearchGate: here.
Rolland. L., Dewaele, J.-M., & Costa, B. (2017). Multilingualism and psychotherapy: exploring multilingual clients' experiences of language practices in psychotherapy. International Journal of Multilingualism, 14(1), 69–85. Doi: 10.1080/14790718.2017.1259009